Interview with Mr Dian Gomes
Mr Dian Gomes
Mr Dian Gomes
Group Director
MAS Holdings
MAS Holdings

Staff training and retention are key elements in offering consistency in a complete manufacturing cycle. What are some challenges faced by manufacturers in Sri Lanka, and incentives to Sri Lankan employees.

Sri Lanka is primarily an agrarian society and almost 90 percent of employees within the industry are women. This combination results in a majority of workers using their industrial jobs only as a transition job till marriage and family commitments. This is a cultural issue which results in natural transition of skilled labor out of the industry.

There was a stigma attached to the workers within the apparel industry which has been overridden through the standards pioneered by companies such as MAS, in positioning the machine operator jobs as being honorable & recognizing them as the driving force of the country’s foreign income generation.

Another challenge faced by the industry is the migration of skilled workers overseas seeking more lucrative opportunities in the Western World & the Middle East. This is an issue not only at the grass root level but also exists at higher management level & technical roles as well.

What Business continuity plans does MAS Holdings, have at hand to deal with various natural and other disruptions to business operations?

A few years ago MAS Holdings re-structured its operations into Clusters with a view of specializing in specific product categories. As a result today MAS Holdings has 3 main clusters focused on Intimate wear, Active wear and Fabrics. Each cluster operates autonomously customizing their business processes to suit the needs of the segment they operate in.

MAS Holdings also adopts a policy of developing its manufacturing facilities in multiple geographical locations. Currently the group operates over 20 plants with operations spread all over Sri Lanka with a few factories being in regional proximity. The future growth plan features India as a strategic location whereby a regional strategy is envisaged to offer further benefits to the customer in terms of cost.

The clusterization and the geographic dispersion of the MAS entities is also a risk mitigation whereby MAS has been successful in overcoming issues like quota systems, natural disasters such as the tsunami and of course risks associated with regional civil unrest.

What business option does the term ‘eco friendly’ manufacturing translate into? Is it a pure case of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs referring specifically to the physiological needs of air, water, food and sleep to take precedence over everything else?

Being eco friendly is not a catch statement or a deliberate ‘CSR’ strategy at MAS Holdings. From Day 1, we have adopted best practices as far as environment conservation is concerned. We have won numerous awards for our contributions to Society, but this is not about awards, goodwill or recognition. For us, its part of our DNA, it defines who we are.

For us being eco friendly is not a ‘business option’. I would say that it would rank as a primary concern for us in the way we run our business. However, we are continuously looking at improving our standards on eco friendliness and this will be brought to life with the launching of the revolutionary ‘Green’ Plant in Thulhiriya, later this year. This facility, built exclusively for Marks & Spencer will take ‘Eco Friendly’ to another level, and there is much interest and enthusiasm within the group to ensure successful launch of this project.

Will MAS Holdings have a business philosophy that will revolutionize the way things are done, like Toyota or even Ford a century ago?

MAS Holdings has always had a revolutionary business philosophy. We are and always will be a company that will put its people and their communities first.

The Apparel industry has over the years been on a continuous migration plan moving from the western world towards developing nations with ‘cheaper labor’ being the key consideration factor and ‘THE solution’ seeked by most vendors:

In this light, MAS Holdings has been revolutionary in its approach to succeeding in the apparel industry. Given below is the rationale for this statement.

  • MAS has bought in technology and skills to integrate activities ultimately becoming an ‘innovations hub’
  • We are establishing ourselves throughout the value chain – not just one sector, and even moving into ‘own brands’
  • We are setting new standards of Ethical/Conscience driven behavior Most importantly we are doing it in a more Leaner and Cost effective (MOS) manner, while not limiting ourselves to become a niche player but a large volume player
  • We have managed to remain successful (cost competitive) in this industry without compromising on our core values. This multi-faceted approach, and combination of strengths, makes us unique and will let us transform this industry as well as how companies tackle labor-intensive operations.
  • What does your job as a CEO in an organization at the Vanguard of Sri Lankan business, really mean to you and generations of businesspersons to follow?

    Our leaders need to know, understand and empower their employees. They need to understand what makes people come together and use this to steer them ahead to achieve exceptional performance. You need to look deep into the mentality of your employees and identify what is most important to them. This will vary among different levels of employees. It is not possible to assume what drives people. This cannot be done, sitting back in plush city offices. My experience of over a decade working with the rural majority has taught me that.

    I run a labor intensive operation with more than 12,000 people under our payroll. Yet we don’t have a single trade union in any of our factories. Thus there have never been any strikes or anything of the like. The reason behind this is the open door policy and the participative style of management adopted by us. We go to the extent of getting the girls from our sewing lines to participate in operational decision making through what we call the JCC (Joint Consultative Committee). I personally sit at this forum and together with the workers we collectively address issues that arise on a day to day basis. I also make it a point to address the staff at least once in three weeks. In order to be effective in people management, it is important that we ‘walk the talk’!

    In a nutshell, I would say that Sri Lankan organizations need to develop a genuine concern for their people and must adopt management practices to facilitate this. Our leaders need to realize that the human resource is the most important asset that an organization can have. If you look at the best performing companies, they have the best talent at their disposal. Thus our management practices should be more people centric. After all it is the people that make it happen.

    Published on: 18/06/2007

    DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of